Saturday, December 31, 2011

Whistle Binkies on the Lake (Rochester, MN)

12/28/11
Whistle Binkies on the Lake from front door
Because of an unfortunate and unexpected closing of O'Neill's Pizza Pub until 4 pm, a group of friends huddled in the cold decided to move our gathering to Whistle Binkies on the Lake (WBL) for an afternoon of chatting over the holiday break.   While I expected the company and the conversation to be fun, my memory of WBL wasn't as positive.  However, WBL has improved significantly since my last visit in 2006 (original review below).   My wife notes that I can be excessively influenced by context (which is true), but I don't think it was just the lively banter and good time that made WBL better.  Compared to 2006, the beer variety and serving have both improved, as well as a friendlier menu for this oversized vegetarian.

When the first Burton Ale from Schell's came out in a Budweiser glass, I thought that I was at the same old WBL.  However, besides that the Burton Ale was extremely good, it was well served and was in great condition.  Head was a little thin, but not unexpected at a bar not catering to beer geeks, or it could be the beer as much as the bar. Next, I had a Lagunitas Sucks (yes, that's the name) holiday ale from Lagunitas that I guessed to be a Belgian IPA while tasting it, but BA has it listed as a Double IPA.  Either way, it was a very good beer and served in a tulip glass with a nice head.  Very pretty in the glass and very tasty.  As the afternoon was waning, I ordered one last beer: Odell's Bourbon Barrel Stout on draft.  A nice beer to sip to finish the afternoon of chatting.  However, the three strong taps took their toll, so those of us left ordered dinner.

Schell's Burton Ale
I referenced several vegetarian options in the old review, but I don't remember what they were and I definitely don't remember having a veggie burger option last time.  At any rate, I tried the veggie patty (black bean burger, I think) as The Bourbon: bourbon glaze, swiss cheese and sauteed mushrooms.  Excellent.  WBL does burgers that way I wish a lot more places would do it--just offer a veggie burger option with a range of choices.  Eight burger choices work with the veggie patty after eliminating the two bacon laden alternatives.  Since the burger was enough (calories), I skipped the fries and had the very acceptable coleslaw instead.  A testament to the mix of clientele that WBL must cater to in Rochester, there is also a low carb option of no bun and no potatoes.


Rochester is a unique place with an incredible range of people for a small town, and WBL seems to have adapted to both the changing beer tastes as well as offering a range of food options to match the diversity. While I was struggling in 2006 to find a solid craft beer served well, now the beer list kept me entertained for an afternoon and I left some on the menu to try another day.  Their beer menu has clearly skewed towards the hoppy end of the spectrum, but they seem to be selling enough of it that the Lagunitas Sucks was fresh and clean even though this seasonal has been on the market for a while.  With a veggie burger that I'd return for to boot, Whistle Binkies on the Lake has definitely left me happy that I was able to give them a second chance for a new impression.


Original BeerAdvocate review from Sept 2006 
Brand new building on the south side of town. Odd though that the sign is actually on the back of the building facing the freeway. I get why, but not a very pretty building. It's big and monolithic, especially from the front since there is no sign on a blank side except a very small one on the door frame. Neat and clean, feels sorta like a small town country club next to a golf course.

Whistle Binkies on the Lake 2011
"On the Lake" is a bit of a stretch too. I suppose it is technically a lake but many ponds are as large. View is ok over the lake, but local freeways come together around this restaurant in the middle of a industrial area. Most of the viewing is probably of young college kids for a night with one of numerous drink specials advertised in the bar and bathrooms, or on one of two sand volleyball nets outside the main entrance. Inside the building is shiny new sports bar with large and small screen TVs in all directions, wireless internet, and the wait staff is the standard pretty working through college girl in small tops.


Both Whistle Binkies (Scottish name according to the menu history) are billed as Scottish (English/Irish???) pubs, so the food includes Fish and Chips, Scotch Eggs, Bangers and Mash besides the standard bar food appetizers and burgers. I only had Loaded Potato Skins (w/o bacon--vegetarian), which were fine, a bit bland and underdone, but good. Unlike most sports bars, there were several vegetarian selections, including a pasta special for the day. A bit more enlightened than normal and wish I had been there for lunch to give the special a try.

WBL taps 2011
The beer list is the real selling point. Thirty tap lines from Grain Belt to Erdinger Hefeweizen, and local favorites Summit, Finnegan's, and Rush River. There's the option of a sampler of six beers for five bucks--good price for four ounce samples. I counted about 160 bottles ranging from Smirnoff Ice to Triple Karmeliet, and a lot in between from all over the U.S. and every major beer country. Great place to go for variety when Rochester boasts no brewpubs or other extensive beer bars (that I know of) except O'Neill's Pizza Pub and their own Olde World Pub. Which compared to the other Whistle Binkie, I prefer the new one over the old. Beside the fresh clean feel, it seems a bit more upscale and the menu is a definite improvement over the Olde location--I think I had onion rings there as one of the only veggie options. On the Lake is a bit more TGIFridays.

Overall, it's a nice place that I'll go to again. My Anchor Steam didn't seem to be 100% but the Summit Scandia was good, though still not as good one I had in the Twin Cites a few days ago. I'm a bit of a beer bar skeptic when they have so many, scared of old beers sitting around that the Miller Light and Jagermeister crowd just don't get around to drink, but my initial tastings seemed to be ok. I didn't drink any bottles, so that eval will have to wait for another trip. With whatever reservations mentioned or implied above, it was nicer and better than I expected walking

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wee Mac (Sun King Brewing, Indianapolis, IN)

Wee Mac is a copper ale with mostly gold highlights shining through in spite of being a wee heavy. Slightly off white head falls quickly. Strong malt nose w/o any hops noticed, but there's a stale bread smell that's rather unpleasant. Strong diacytl, I believe. Diacytal flavors, butterscotch, and staleness continue in the taste. Sour and off flavored, and the mouthfeel is watery. I'm generally beer adventurous, but extremely disappointed with this beer and having a hard time finishing it. Avoid.

Serving type: can

Reviewed on: 12-29-2011 18:02:11

Grand Design (Flat Earth Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Grand Design--S'mores infused porter by
Flat Earth Brewing. 
On my recent growler quest, I finally got to Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul, the closest brewery to my house.  Backwards, yes, I know.  My poor excuse is that I am always excited about the new brew, and Flat Earth, while relatively new, isn't the newest kid on the block.  I did the tour of the brewery way back in September of 2007 and have always liked Jeff Williamson's beer but was never a zealot.  I've wanted to be a zealot.  It's hard not to cheer on a former teacher turned brewer, especially since I occasionally dream of the lottery ticket that means I don't have to grade a hundred essays over Christmas break.  I recently drank a couple of Flat Earth bottles plus a portion of growler number one to the left, and here's the part where I admit that I was wrong to push Flat Earth to the back of the fridge.

Today's example is Grand Design, a S'more infused version of the standard Cygnus X-1 (Canadian say my notes from 2007) porter.   No idea how a S'more gets into a porter, but it's right on the money for this one.  Good beer for New Year's Eve that a fairly wide range of folks will enjoy.

Hard pour from growler of
Grand Design.  
Dark brown porter that has glistening ruby highlights when back lit by the soft afternoon winter sun.  Tightly bubbled light tan head that's fluffy when poured hard out of the growler.  The growler is near the end and I traveled with it in my trunk after being opened at a recent social gathering.  Unmistakable chocolate and vanilla in the nose with a slight roast and biscuit underneath.  No idea how Jeff makes this into a S'more, but it seems that adding chocolate to the porter's smokey roast is an important element.  Vanilla may be ramped upped too, but I need to taste the Cygnus X-1 again to distinguish which part is the base beer and which part is the infusion.  Next trip.  Smooth and creamy mouthfeel that washes over and lingers nicely.  Again, clear chocolate and vanilla on top of an ever so slightly acrid roast, full sweetness that's not cloying and a full malty goodness.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

900 English Ale (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)


Listed as English Bitter on the menu, and as a little sibling of  Town Hall Brewery's award winning 1800 IPA, 900 is a surprising little beer that has more to it than expected.

A thin white head falls quickly and disappears over the dark yellow beer with a copper tinge is pretty in the pint, but not overly magnificent and deceives the drinker as to the flavor to come.  Nose is very subtle--light breadiness below an earthy and floral hop.  So far, so good, but the taste is the real trooper for this beer: caramel, bready malt with a respectable hop twang and excellent hop flavor that's redolent of earthy, woodsy and floral.  Nose opens up after 10 min in the glass.  Malt and the English hops shine more.

Extremely clean and well brewed beer.  As an IPA/DIPA/hop addict, this is a beer that delivers a super hop flavor in a session ale without the scorched earth of a hop bomb or the dizzying height of a ABV monster.  While still a sucker for a big beer, this is a pretty amazing beer with a great flavor, a social ale that doesn't skimp on taste.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ondineke (Kleinbrouwerij De Glazen Toren, Erpe-Mere, Belgium)


Glazen Toren Ondineke at the Blue Nile


One bonus of a day off as a teacher is a little extra time to stop and have a beer and say hi to Al at the Blue Nile on a Thursday afternoon.  Only time for one tonight, so asked Al to serve me the best on tap--same as always.  Leftover from the Belg-a-Rama that I was too tired to make on Friday, I found myself with a pretty glass of Glazen Toren Ondineke in front of me.   Al has a review online as well.


Light thin white head with very tight, small bubbles falls to a persistent film on top of a hazy sunset orange beer. Very yeasty nose--pleasant.  Light hop spice, assertive but not pushy, usual for a tripel, blends with a orange zest, lemon, banana and pepper.  Slightly sweet and bready base supports the intricate spice. Full mouthfeel without being heavy.  Yeast and spice continues in the taste, and kicks up a notch compared to the nose.  Dry, spicy aftertaste.  Yeast subdues as it warms so the spiciness can take over.  Pretty incredible beer that's well worth the effort.  


Thursday, December 22, 2011

West Side Belgian-Style IPA (Harriet Brewing, Minneapolis, MN)

Drank a growler last weekend from Harriet Brewing, and their West Side Belgian-Style IPA is my new favorite oxymoron.  Just a few years ago this beer wouldn't have made sense, and now it seems to be the flagship and only year round beer of a new brewery.  I do love beer and the beer world that's ever changing.

Fluffy white head builds up with tight clean bubbles.  Pretty golden ale with copper highlights.  My picture is a bit dark compared to reality. For me, this beer is all about the nose.  Big and overwhelming, it perfect for my below average olfactory abilities.  A brazen blend of strong hop and assertive Belgian yeast.  The yeasty characteristics yield to the hops as it warms, and creates a very pleasant temperature cycle that encourages a nice, slow sip over an afternoon or evening.  

Strong saison-like peppery note.  I don't know the yeast, but it's an assertive yeast with strong characteristics, much like yeast determined beers of 't IJ in Amersterdam.  No indication of the hops used except that they are Northwest, but the clear citrusy smell is intriguing.  A blend of lemon zest, grapefruit, lemon, and a slight pine and resin earthiness.  I think the real genius of this beer is how the hop and yeast spices cross each other's boundaries and create something more than the whole.  

Bready malt base supports a clean hop and yeast spice that matches the nose exactly.  40 IBU seems a bit light for the hop punch in the nose, but the yeast is giving amazing support in the spiciness.  Lingering dryness makes this beer a real pleasure to drink.  I see myself returning to the brewery for another growler as a regular habit, especially paired with a second seasonal growler.

A review of Harriet Brewing itself is coming later when I get time to do the tour.   In the meantime, a trip for a growler fill is well worth the effort if you're around Hiawatha and Lake St.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Amon Amarth-Ragnarok (Three Floyd's Brewing, Munster, IN)


Brought a bottle back from FFF in October, and finally got around to drinking it up.  Couldn't find a description online, but remember that it was a dedication to a local band. For a comparative beer point of view, check out Al's review at The Bitter Nib.  If interested in Amon-Amarth, here's their website

From the side of the bottle:
A beer for the end of ages brewed with our friends in the band Amon Amarth. This Aesir Porter is a robust and hearty beer brewed with local honey and a small portion of smoked malt. When Heimdall sounds the Giallar-horn this is the beer to be hoisted by the gods in anticipation of the coming battle.

A brief search says Aesir is the principal race of Norse gods, and I'll admit a lack of knowledge of Norse mythology and the band Amon Amarth, so didn't follow it much from there.

On to the beer:  Light brown head pours thin, tiny bubbled layer that falls with a nice lace.  Seemingly black opaque body, but a closer look makes it a dark chocolate brown.  Clear roast nose with light grassy and pine hop on top.  Intriguing nose that builds some anticipation for the taste, but the taste is similar but muddled.  Roast is a bit acrid in the mouth, and the hop bite is a standard FFF bite but doesn't blend well with the taste.  Irish stout finish.  Nice beer, but doesn't quite pull together one hundred percent.  Perfectly fine with the bottle, and might even try it on tap if it ever appeared again.  

Warmed up, the beer does a bit better.  Hop nose increases and subdues the roast in the nose.  Pine and an earthy note increase.  Balance improves measurably but still not complete.  A nitro push or just a tap taking the rough edges off would be interesting, but I didn't get that chance (and don't know if it was ever on tap).  Good beer that improves with a bit of time and conversation.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Buzz (Los Angeles, CA)

Buzz wine beer shop  
So, Gloria and I were walking across downtown LA towards Angel City Brewing, and we came across Buzz wine beer shop at 460 South Spring St.  If you have been to downtown LA, it's a bit of a wasteland, and I don't mean just a beer wasteland.  A tough neighborhood that's improving very, very slowly, and to see a good beer store was a bit of a surprise.  With expectations raised, we walked in and took a look around.  Being that we had far too much beer at the hotel already, this was just an expedition to see what was there.  In a hurry, I didn't take a specific survey, but the bottles were a very respectable list of west coast big name beers, plus a nice array of Belgians.  Prices seemed reasonable as well, at least for LA.  I take it as a sign that craft beer can move into even unexpected places.

Buzz beer bottle offerings

Taps tasting area in back of  Buzz

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Artic Panzer Wolf (Three Floyd's Brewing, Munster, IN)

From the bottle
Straw gold ale that looks deceptively light in the glass with a fluffy pure white head.  Clearly the head is the snow covered Artic portion of the name of this Imperial IPA.  Two ways to go big with hops--extremely big on top of extremely big, and big on top of lighter; this beer is the latter.  Gives the beer a massive hop nose--bigger than most Imperial India Pale Ales.  Very clean and singular grapefruit in the nose with a subordinate malt base, a bit of pepper, pine and hotness from the 9% alcohol.  Soft bready malt on the tongue--and--there's the bite.  Feeds the hop beast extremely well.  Hops linger nicely and burns out the palate.  From the website, FFF says "Scorched earth is our brewery policy".  This beer proves it.

Brought this bottle back from the FFF brewpub in Munster on our now yearly trek to see our Boilermaker niece Amanda at Purdue.  Very glad to have Three Floyds en route to a regular destination.  Another bottle of APW made its way to my friend Al, so check out his review of the bottle as well.

Below is the review from the tap when we visited last October.  While still the beer I remember, the review below definitely points to a change in the bottle compared to the glass on tap.

From the tap
9% sunset gold DIPA with very little head or lace in the snifter. Not a big nose for all of the 100 IBU hype, but pleasant with a clean pine, orange, grapefruit, light pepper and malt. Resin and oily pine coat the tongue with a sharp, slightly fruity hop bite. Dry, grassy finish to let you know how many hops were sacrificed to the hop god for this one. Flavor warms nicely and the alcohol becomes much more apparent.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Santa's Night Off

To deliver toys to all the world's children in a single night must be very thirsty work.  Luckily, some try to get on Santa's good side by leaving something besides milk and cookies.  Not wanting to drink and fly, he takes the special gifts home to sample after another successful holiday.  Santa and Mrs. Claus begin their vacation with a New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red, an ale as iconic as Santa's suit with its white cap sitting atop a cherry red beer.  The elves put too much coal in the sleigh, so Santa is a bit disgruntled when he gets to the North Pole and Mrs. Claus pours him a pint of Ridgeway Brewing's Bad Elf to take his mind off the evening's mishaps.  After almost a year of hard work, the exhausted elves get the party started with a glass or three of Arrogant Bastard from Stone Brewing.  And to insure that he's always popular, Rudolph manages to hide a keg of Big Sky Moose Drool in the back of the sleigh for the reindeer games.  As the celebration continues in the workshop, Santa is feeling better and reflects on the reason for the season and decants a bottle of Westvleteren 12, a Trappist ale from the monks of the Abbey of St. Sixtus.  To be politically correct and include our Judeo-Christian partners, Mrs. Claus opens a bottle of He'Brew Jewbelation from Shmaltz Brewing to wash away their post Hanukkah and Christmas melancholy.  Now a bit more jolly, Santa chuckles merrily as he begins to reminisce over the myriad of beautiful Christmas trees he saw this special night and pops the top on a Peaks Brewpub Spruce Juice, a Belgian ale brewed with pine needles.  Draining the glass and the memories of this season, Santa turns once again to the job at hand with Anchor's Our Special Ale.  As the spiced winter ale with a unique yearly recipe swirls absentmindedly in a snifter, Santa meditates on how he will continue to match the perfect toy to every nice boy and girl, and he drowsily dreams of next Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 12, 2011

15th Anniversary Escondido Imperial Black IPA (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)

Bottle Review 
As advertised, this Imperial  Black IPA is jet black and absolutely opaque, even when directly back lit.  Big fluffy brown head that falls slowly and has a heavy lace.  Heavy hop spice in the nose supported by a range of flavors: burnt sugar, heavy roasted malt, black strap molasses, dark fruit--light cherry and heavy fig, grapefruit, and a dense earthiness.  Very excited for the first sip.  Wow.  Give me a second.
Stone 15th Anniversary Imperial Black IPA

Roasted malt and molasses taste is heavy with a burnt note blended with the serious hop bite.  Supported by the wonderful nose, it is an amazingly fun beer to drink.  10.8% alcohol is not apparent in the nose or the taste, but the Imperial part of the title is showing through in every other respect.  Hop lingers on the tongue and rises in the center of the mouth with the roast for a splendid twang.  Dry off the back.  

Warming up. In the meantime, Stone's normal diatribe on the back of the bottle is really a call to arms.  I would recommend reading it on the website instead--I find it hard to read, even with bifocals.  I thought Stone essays to be charming the first time on a bottle of Arrogant Bastard, but now I'm rarely a fan of the languished language on the bottle backs.  I do agree, at least in part, with this essay that there is a danger of pseudo craft and artisan drink and food movements trying to jump on the bandwagon and watering down the progress.  Keeping in mind the Brewers Association's last count of US breweries is at 1,759 with 725 new breweries in planning stages as of last June, the possibility of a beer bust is very real.  Does the beer industry need to pay attention for a potential 1990s style brewery shake out?  Is there a beer bubble that will burst like the dot.com craze?  Maybe.  As a consumer, I'm going to enjoy the ride and hope for the best.  Minnesota is most definitely in the middle of the brewery boom--I'm having trouble even keeping track of the forty two breweries now listed on BeerAdvocate for my state.  

As the beer warms, the alcohol becomes apparent in nose and taste, which has little effect except that the hop is more subdued in the nose.  Now the beer exhibits a stronger balance than when cold, so don't be afraid to be busy and drink this one over time.

Souvenirs from first trip to Stone World Bistro
Growler Review
Living in Minnesota, I recently had the rare treat of drinking a bottle of Stone at home and then having it at Stone World Bistro shortly afterwards.  While at Stone, I bought a growler of the Double Dry Hopped 15th Anniversary Ale for the hotel and wasn't disappointed.  I didn't write it down, but a report on BA says it was dry hopped with Motueka and Pacific Gold hops.  In the hotel room, it pours like motor oil--thick, viscous, jet black and then a fluffy brown head piles up.  Massive hop nose--like smelling hop pellets from a freshly opened bag, which rests on top of chocolate, coffee and an acrid, heavy roast.  Roast continues in the taste with an earthy, chewy hop bite and a full mouthfeel.  Very cool beer that I'm glad to have spent some quality time with on my first trip to the Stone World Bistro.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dark Abbey (Harriet Brewing, Minneapolis, MN)

Picked up my first growler from Harriet Brewing tonight.  Very fun place that I will review when I do the tour, hopefully over Christmas break.  I'm on my second glass of this Belgian dubbel tonight, and the 7% ABV is apparent a bit in the nose and more in the feel.  First glass has a huge bubbly head with massive bursts of gas that collapse in a haphazard way.  The irregular head can be seen a bit in the picture.  For the second glass, the off white head formed much more nicely with tight bubbles and a much prettier presentation.

The nose is my favorite part of this beer.  Strong Belgian yeast combined with a superb dark fruit, cherry and fig on top of a heavy chocolate malt base.  Very pretty and intoxicating to breathe in.  Taste doesn't match up to the smell, for me anyway.  However, I like the growler better than my first draft of the beer at the Blue Nile in October.  I'm quite sure Al served it well, but I'm starting to think that I drank it a bit too fast the first time. Warmed up, the taste opens up significantly.  More yeast notes, dark fruits rest on the tongue more, and there's a light spiciness that lingers pleasantly.  On Harriet's website, they add the description of rum-raisin to what I've tasted, and the alcohol note is reminiscent of rum.  I had planned to order a different beer when I walked in the brewery, but the person in front of me literally ordered the last one, so ordering the Dark Abbey with the West Side was the only option left for the day.  As this has been a very pleasant night, thank god for happy accidents.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bourbon Barrel Stout (Odell Brewing, Fort Collins, CO)

Poured a bit hard into a pint glass, the 10.5% ABV imperial stout piles up high with a tan, thick, rocky head that looks like foamy snow drifts after a storm.  Dark black body that's opaque except for fleeting dark maroon highlights that appear with a strong back light.  Nose seems a little subdued, but a quick swirl opens up a very pleasant roast that predominates over bourbon, alcohol hotness, light hop spice and oak.  Creamy roast taste to start the beer, and a clean spice with caramel, malt and vanilla. Odell website description includes coffee, but I get it only after reading it.  For an imperial stout, it has a prickly mouthfeel, seemingly from a carbonic bite which contributes to the very strong head formation.  Letting the bottle warm up while open, the top-off pour forms a more stable and tightly bubbled head.  Might be a bit over-carbonated in the bottle.  Oak off the back of the tongue with a sting of bourbon.

As this beer warms, the dark fruit, especially cherry notes, come out of hiding.  Didn't notice the fruit flavors at all when colder--a solid argument for drinking beer slowly.  A strong beer should improve as it warms--an important trait for big beers for me.  However, for this beer, the mouthfeel thins and the alcohol becomes very hot in the nose with the increased temperature causing the balance to worsen and become acrid.   Nothing is wrong with this imperial stout per se, but tonight's pint lacks a certain pizzazz. Well worth the price of admission for a good beer that won't become a cult hero.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Allies Win the War! (21st Amendment, San Francisco, CA)

I'm struggling with Allies Win the War! as to how much I like this beer.  Nice dishwater brown head that has a light lace and falls to a thick film.  Very interesting nose that clearly has the dates touted in the label there, but a serious hop spice to blend with the dark fruit, lemon, pine, cinnamon or anise on top of a thick bready malt. Nice start.   Taste follows somewhat with the malty base and solid fruit, but the hop doesn't follow through.  The earthy, peppery spice lingers but is subdued.  The blending of flavors seems a bit muddled and fight each other.  Mouthfeel is lighter than I expected from the thick malt in the nose.  As the beer warms, the alcohol becomes very apparent in the nose, and gives the beer a slightly oily feel.

A collaboration ale with Ninkasi of Oregon, they aged the English strong ale on California dates with Northwest hops.  Falconer's Flight hops must be the nose from dry hopping.  The "superpower" pitch for the beer's name seems to be a stretch, but all in good fun for good beer.  Still a very interesting beer, at least on paper.  I could see myself being really excited about this beer at a festival by reading the description, but I'm disappointed with the realization of the prose.  21st Amendment is a go-to favorite of mine and I'm ok with the four pack have in the fridge, but I don't see myself replacing it with another.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

This Bud's for Jude

On the first day of the blog, a home town friend Jude made a Facebook comment was that "Budweiser rocks....Just saying."  I have had Budweiser on exactly three occasions in which "This Bud's for You!" actually rocked my world.

The first time was many years ago at the State Fair (pre-2004 since I did this experience well before the brewery tour below).  Anheuser-Busch (AB) set up multiple semi-trailers back to back in which the history and process of Budweiser was detailed.  At the end of the mini-tour, we received some much deserved samples after sitting through the slick advertising presentations.  Those samples are not in my database, but I distinctly remember thinking "If Budweiser was this fresh and cold all the time, it would be a much better beer to drink."  Under perfect conditions, it's a pretty good beer.  Unfortunately, I have only had Budweiser served this well one other time.

The second time Budweiser impressed me was when my wife and I toured AB in St. Louis just before New Year's of 2004.   The historic nature of the grounds, especially the horses and the stables, makes this a very interesting brewery tour.  Also, the massive size of the facility and the ageing tanks were incredible compared to every other brewery tour I've been on, including Miller and Coors.  Again, the samples were fresh and well served, and not typical of what I've tasted in other locations.  Admittedly, I don't test this theory extensively.  Of all of the interesting tidbits on the tour, the discussion of quality control on the tour was the most amazing.  Unfortunately, I've lost the exact details of the lecture to the mists of memory, but the according to the Budweiser website the fifth and final quality check is for a sample of Budweiser to be flown daily from each brewery to St. Louis for a 3 pm tasting.  Samples are cross checked against a standard base and only those that taste like Budweiser are allowed to be bottled.  I recommend the tour for this part alone (minus my snarky comment of "Too bad the taste testers didn't get a job sampling better beer!").  Regardless of a beer geek's opinion of their beer, AB has to be respected for being able to have a Budweiser taste like a Budweiser everywhere in the world.  I can't get two batches of homebrew to taste the same.  AB's accomplishment is truly remarkable.

The most recent time AB made my day was when I tried Brew Master's Reserve All Malt Lager in February 2006.  I saw it on a beer buying trip to Blue Max, and bought it for a Superbowl party we were hosting.    As pulled the wine sized bottle out of its matching box, "All Malt" and other platitudes reminiscent of craft beer stood as as their proof of quality.  When we tried the beer at the party, it was clearly an improvement over Budweiser, but nothing overly special.  A clean, crisp lager with a nice quality--not surprising from AB since that's their specialty.  What was truly special about the bottle--or so I told anyone who would listen--was that this meant the beginning of the end.  I trust AB's marketing research, and if they feel compelled to brew and package anything other than their regular brands, they see the writing on the wall.  In the words of Joey from Friends, "I know that you know that I know!"  I won't attempt to untangle the relationships between AB and regional brewers like Redhook, Widmer, Kona, Goose Island and others; however, AB has clearly worked to diversify it's portfolio into craft and premium brands for some time now, which is a part of the diversified super beer company Anheuser Busch InBev.




Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tasman Red (Boston Beer Co, Samuel Adams, Boston, MA)

Billed as a Red IPA, Tasman Red is a dark maroon to almost an opaque brown in the glass.  Held high against the light, shimmering ruby highlights show up.  Pouring out of the bottle, it's a muddy copper.  Thick, creamy and rocky head the bubbles high and persists.  Nice malt nose, but the hops shine through very clearly like an IPA.  Looking at the beer, it defies expectations and is fun and surprising.  More malt in the taste, but the citrus hop bite doesn't back down a bit.  At 6.75%, it's not a beast but has some heft to it.  No alcohol apparent.  I like this beer, but it feels a bit muddled and not pulled together.  Clean and well brewed, just not a new favorite.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Double Bastard (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)

I have had so much trouble getting a hold of this beer in the past.  Never in any of the Wisconsin, Illinois or Indiana liquor stores that I used to pick up Stone at in the dark times that my beloved wasn't sold in Minnesota.  Now, I run into it at my corner, back-up store.  Excellent.  Double Bastard sounds like a playground taunt, but clearly a big brother to Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Hazy dark brown ale with copper highlights in the thinner parts of the glass. Thin tan head falls quickly to a whispy fillm. Hot, whiskey like nose that clears the sinuses. Malt, dark fruit, burnt cherry pie, caramel blend for a complex and extremely assertive nose. Predominate hop bite in the taste--blistering bitterness with resin. Oily mouthfeel with strong malt, chocolate, raisins and figs. Love this beer. I can see where some might not like the overly assertive qualities, but cherishing them at the moment. High on my all time favorite list, so I need to acquire some more.  Thinking that some age might have some very interesting effects.

If you don't mind the hot alcohol, let it warm up and have a nice afternoon.  Sip this one when you have the time on a Sunday afternoon through a full football game.  If not, drink cold and fast--careful walking afterwards.  The 10% is apparent in the smell, taste--everything really.  Drink, enjoy and consume life as it should be--with great beer.

If all is well with the world, I'll find myself drinking at Stone World Bistro on Saturday.  Hope, hope, hope!  Next week, I should have pics and a report on the pilgrimage.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Toronto Festival of Beer 2005



Below is my review of the Toronto Festival of Beer in the summer of 2005.  At that time, it was kindly printed in The Boiler, the newsletter for the Minnesota Home Brewers Association.  I've reprinted it here exactly as it was printed originally except for updating my email address.  In July of 2011, I returned to Toronto to visit my niece Regan, and I was able to get to Beerbistro plus a few other downtown locations that I'll review another day.  Smokeless Joe's is closed now, sadly; the rumor in Toronto and on BA says it may re-open at a later time.  

TORONTO’S FESTIVAL OF BEER
by Cal Vande Hoef

At the U.S.-Canadian border, the customs officer asked my purpose for visiting Toronto. “Pleasure,” I said, “attending the beer festival in downtown Toronto.” He just laughed and waved me through to my next beer hunt - eight hour days tasting central Canada’s finest beers at the 10th Annual Festival of Beer (FOB) on August 5th-7th.

Arriving at the FOB is easy, a short mile walk from my hotel.  Along the way, street food - pizza by the slice, Greek, Thai, and myriad ethnic fare - is available en route to historic Fort York. Built in 1793, Fort York is the birthplace of modern Toronto and the location of the Battle of York in 1812.

Once inside, drinkers are greeted by three large beer tents surrounded by many smaller tents, some for beer and others for food. Food is on a much grander scale at FOB compared to the carnival-style food normally offered at festivals. Many of the local restaurants have booths serving up their best, including a lobster sub. Also, a “Q” tent (short for BBQ in Canadian) features television personalities like Ted Reader from Food Network Canada.

The FOB is expensive, but you have plenty of opportunity to sample. Tickets are $25 (Canadian) a day plus a dollar token for each 4 oz. sample. The plastic glass technically held 8 ounces at the rim, and could be filled for two tokens. Brewers often overfilled the single token sample, so I didn’t see the point of pouring doubles. A local drinker said the tokens are a necessary constraint on Canadian drinking habits - free beer for one price would cause them all to imbibe to oblivion.

On the website (www.beerfestival.ca), FOB advertised 200 brands of beer. With lines rarely more than a few persons deep, getting a beer was easy, even on the sold-out Saturday. As a veteran of Great Taste and other festivals, this should have been the perfect beer festival. However, security made everyone dump all water bottles at the gate, and not enough of the $2 bottled water was available. While I did appreciate the clean and nearly lineless portable toilets, the resulting dehydration made it difficult to spend the evening in downtown Toronto. As a result, I had only one single Belgian ale at Smokeless Joe’s—the best beer bar in
downtown, according to one brewer. And, due to recovering too long in the hotel room, I missed eating at the famous beer cuisine restaurant Beerbistro - a great disappointment.

The sampling on Friday was disheartening. Unlike the very efficient line at Great Taste, the gates opened nearly 45 minutes late. At the FOB, many of the brewers have portable bars to enhance presentation. Many larger breweries like Labatt, Molson, Tuborg, and Guinness, and mid-range brewers like Alexander Keith’s and Robert Simpson Brewing, had bars to belly up to that were bigger than Smokeless Joe’s. Unfamiliar with the breweries, I was distracted by the flashy displays and, possibly, by the commercial-clad girls serving macrobrew samples.

Saturday was much more successful. I started the day with Amsterdam Brewing, a downtown brewpub. A sample of Nut Brown Ale was good, and close to style. The Framboise was well done. However, compared to the beers offered at the pub, only the lightest were served at the festival. Moving on, Black Oak Brewing served a Double Chocolate Cherry Stout that really lived up to its name. Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery was consistently good, serving a Cream Ale, Premium Lager, Premium Dark Ale, and Honey Brown Lager.

The Scotch Irish Brewing Company was delightful. St. Majors IPA (a “massively hopped” IPA at 68 IBUs) was properly bitter and satisfying. Captain Cascade, a cask American Pale Ale was smooth, hoppy, and well balanced. In the land of Euro lagers, a cask ale seemed an almost unreal find. While there had been some bright spots earlier in the day—a really interesting Eisbock by Niagara Brewing Company from the Canadian side of the falls, a true to style Classic India Pale Ale from Magnotta Brewery, and Upper Canada Brewing Company’s Pale, Red, and Dark Ale offerings were all full bodied—nothing matched Scotch Irish Brewing for quality, and, frankly, for tasting like an American brewpub.

The difference between Canadian and American brewpubs became clear - our extreme and individualistic beer consumer attitude in the lower 48 allows brewers to offer a wide range of ales and lagers while pushing the limits of style. Several Canadian brewers - Alexander Keith’s, Robert Simpson Brewing, and Steam Whistle Brewing sell only one beer (IPA, Cream Ale, and Premium Lager, respectfully). Steelback Brewing is representative of this narrow Canadian beer vision, in which the strongest beer is a Heineken Dark or other Euro import imitation. Steelback’s festival offerings included Bruce County Wild (Bavarian Pilsner), Chain (Euro Lager), Link Light (Euro Lager), Steelback Red (Amber Lager), Steelback Silver (American
Lager), Tango (South American Style Lager), Tiverton Bear Dark Lager (Euro Dark Lager), and Tiverton Bear Honey Brown (Amber Lager). In spite of having its own problems with bland beer in the U.S., our microbrew industry is fighting the trend much more vigorously than the Canadian breweries I tasted at FOB.

While it is quite possible that Double IPA and barrel-aged barleywine have distorted my taste, Canada, or possibly just Toronto, is afraid of hops and strong beers in general. They seem to prefer Euro-styled beers that taste like the imported versions.  As I was out of tokens, a young couple named Ivan and Neema bought me my last sample of the day, Glengarry 90 Shilling, a strong, malty, Scotch cask ale. We continued praising the beer from Scotch Irish Brewing as I gave them tips on how and where to find similarly interesting beer across the border to satisfy a growing Canadian thirst for beer stronger than a cream ale.

After a few more of my favorites from the day before, I left early on Sunday because of the heat and lack of new brews. In spite of drinking nearly every beer in the place over three days, my notes showed just 93 new beers. If you’re in Toronto in August, stop for one day at the festival. Spend the rest of your time enjoying the incredible diversity of downtown Toronto and drinking more than a couple beers at Smokeless Joe’s. Don’t miss dinner at Beerbistro down the street.  Cheers, eh.

About the author: Cal Vande Hoef is a full-time high school English teacher and part time beer evangelist, spreading the good beer news. Feel free to email him at cvandehoef@gmail.com.  Or, better yet, stop by during Town Hall’s pint club - he’s the large bald guy reading poetry.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Silver Anniversary Ale (Summit Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Hoppy Anniversary!  25th anniversary limited edition ale that is a hopped up version of Summit's classic and iconic American pale ale.  Burnt amber pale ale with a fluffy off white head that hangs in there for most of the beer.  Big grapefruit and hop spice over a moderate malt.  Can really smell the EPA underneath the strong hoppiness that Summit added to this ale.  Hops linger on the tongue with a sharp bitterness at the sides.  Slightly sweet finish but the hop is still there off the back.  Same mineral taste that is the classic EPA, the smaller malt bill let the hops shine through the lighter (but by no means thin) body.

A very fun "interpretation" of the EPA, as stated on Summit's website, and an excellent homage to the legacy and role that Summit has played in the development of craft beer.  Cascade hops are the common element. Horizon and Fuggles are swapped out for Citra and Centennial hops (plus a dry hop) to create the anniversary ale.  The changes give a clearly American tint to the beer compared to the English character of the EPA.

Both are good, but I like the Silver Anniversary Ale better.  However, I don't think comparison is really the point.  The lighter, hop forward American style of the anniversary ale compared to the maltier, English character of the EPA is a harbinger of the changing beer world from the Old to the New.  While European beers still have a lot to offer (and I still intend to travel to see for myself just how much), the heart and soul of the beer world is transplanting to the US--if it hasn't already.   Emerging beer countries like Japan and Australia, among others, look to the cooperative yet individualistic model of US craft brewers rather than the style based approach for much of Europe.  Belgium, a country less tied to styles, seems to be the leader in following the lessons learned in the creation of the US craft industry.  The very existence of a one of my favorite new styles--Belgian IPA--is almost prima facie proof of the seismic shift.

Get a six pack of the Silver Anniversary Ale, enjoy the flavor, celebrate the accomplishments of Summit, and joyously anticipate the future of the craft beer industry right in our own backyard.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ode to a Russian Shipwright (Olvalde Farm and Brewing, Rollingstone, MN)


Luscious head the color of the inside of malted milk balls sits on a dark brown to black opaque ale that is listed as an Imperial Stout Porter on the label.  Across the top it notes that it was brewed with spruce tips.  Website says it was brewed in honor of the brewing legacy of Peter the Great and the ingredients of the Baltic region, including rye and spruce.

Ode to a Russian Shipwright by Olvalde
Light roast in the nose, but clean and pleasant.  Spruce is there, but tucked underneath the roast.  Many spruce beers can slap you in the face with the pine smell, but not this one.  Slight spice in the nose, but not sure if it's the rye, spruce or some hop (or yes).  Taste has a sweet malt taste, less roast, dark fruit, and a rye twang that makes it stand up well in the mouth.  This is elegant for its size, and creates a well balanced beer that's clearly well done but doesn't have to blow out the taste buds to prove it.

Luckily, I got a bit distracted while drinking the beer and it warmed up very nicely.  Highly recommend letting this one warm up a bit in the bottle before pouring it.  Spruce comes out more in nose, and it improves the taste because the subtle flavors come out more without losing balance.

And, this beer is a local Minnesota product from Olvalde farmhouse brewery in Rollingstone.  I didn't know where is was either--think Winona.  Guessing more people will know it soon enough.  Pick up this fine artisan beer with a swing top cap--got mine at the Four Firkins.  For me, a nice way to finish a lazy day at home for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vertical Epic 11.11.11 (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)


I picked the 11.11.11 tonight (Wednesday) because it's the closest to catnip. Let me explain.  We recently remodeled our kitchen with new marble floors, and just today I put the spices back up from the pantry.  One was catnip for our kittens, all three of which have passed away in the last year.  Mannie, Claude and Rajda loved catnip, and I regret not giving it to them more often.  For me, today at least, I'm giving myself the catnip.

Bring out your glass slippers, so this ruby colored ale can take you to the ball!  Great lace on the side of the glass from very light brown and tightly bubbled head.  Great nose that's not overpowering--smells of citrus, lemon, anise, light cherry and pepper, plus floral notes, all floating on top of a caramel, bready malt and  subtle yeast.  Slight sour note underneath that doesn't assert itself against a moderate hotness from the 9.4% ABV.  Hops listed online are Warrior, Target, Perle and Pacific Jade.  Complex nose that drew me in because of my love of spice accented beers.  Hop punch is distinct but not biting.  Hop blended with continued anise and a fruity base that rises above the lighter mouthfeel and malt.  Alcohol is apparent, and pleasant as well.  Falls nicely off the back of the tongue with a slight sour bitterness.  As it warms, the body thins out and the alcohol becomes more pronounced and loses balance.  Some of the lower BA reviews for the beer, I believe, might come from the latter part of the warmth cycle; or, the subtle, spicy character might disappoint Stone hop heads.

The very small print on the side of the bottle says that the beer was brewed with cinnamon sticks, Anaheim chilies and Belgian Flanders Golden Ale yeast. Guessing the peppers are accounting for the full and complex spice notes along with the cinnamon.  The yeast is said to throw off banana and clove, which I can smell and especially taste now that I'm paying attention to it specifically.

Good beer and worth the effort to go find.  Tenth in the series of Vertical Epic ales, next year's 12.12.12 is the last (and coincidentally on my birthday).   I was not able to acquire any of the 02.02.02 of the series, but happily have bottles for the rest.   It has been a long wait, but it will truly be a fun time tasting all of them side by side. Since Stone shares recipes for all of the Vertical Epic beers, I'm hoping to brew a clone of the .02.02.02 this summer so that the vertical tasting is complete.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Third Voyage (Boston Brewing Co, Samuel Adams, Boston, MA)

Shimmering copper Double IPA with a thick, fluffy head and irregular bubbles.   Time to linger on the smell as the head takes time to recede--clean grapefruit punches up.  Side of the bottle lists Cascade hops from the UK and New Zealand with Simcoe hops from the US.  Third Voyage refers to Captain Cook's fatal but otherwise successful voyage by using ingredients from associated areas.  Very little malt, but a light caramel note with the citrus and floral hop.  Citrus and pine continues into the first sip through a moderate mouthfeel, but more robust that I would expect from the color.  The 8% alcohol suggests a fair amount of malt, which would explain the fuller mouthfeel. Smooth, oily taste that is lighter than I like, but pleasant.  Again, from the bottle, the malt bill lists Harrington, Metcalfe and Copeland pale malts, Caramalt and Honey malt. The effect is a full, sweet bready caramel and toffee base for the hops.   Of these, I'm only familiar with the later two malts, so not sure of the contribution.  As the beer warms up, the pine, resin and citrus really come out more.

The varied hop and malt bill lends the beer a complex but subtle flavor.  Not being over the top, this beer might suffer a bit with hop heads.  Hops are subdued by the body.   An elegant beer that's good, Third Voyage is well worth a try but I don't think I'll buy another bottle.  I would be interested in trying it on tap if it fell into my path.  Reading some of the BA reviews, I don't see much explanation for the lower ratings.  Lack of over the top hops and a clean balance may be the reason.  If the reviewer drank it too fast, some of the more interesting aspects of the beer may have been lost.  Or, maybe a little Sam Adams bias, and not giving enough respect to the big microbrewery.

I'm drinking the beer with the last Harry Potter playing in the background.  Paralleled death of Captain Cook and Harry, each who dies for the ultimate success of his path, is an interesting comparison.  A poetic stretch, even for me, I admit.  But, finding meaning in death and life is a desire as old as legend and time, a desire I have always pursued.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Carmody Irish Pub & Brewery (Duluth, MN)

11/19/11

Carmody Irish Pub & Brewing in downtown Duluth, MN on Superior St 
While driving back to the hotel from Fitger’s down the street on East Superior (main drag of Duluth), I saw “& Brewing” tacked on the bottom of Carmody Irish Pub. While done nicely, it seems like it has been added, but not specifics were available on the history of the brewing at the pub. And, since I was in a hurry, I, unfortunately, didn’t ask when there. 

In short, I found the stop to be more pleasant and productive than I imagined at first. While I don’t doubt Buebie’s experience, I found it to be much better. It’s nearly two months later, so maybe the Carmody brewers are learning and have made some adjustments. Again, I have not inside information, and we’ll leave that to a Duluth BA to add. 

I tried the following beers as a sampler tray: Agnes Red Ale (6%), Tippler’s Golden (4.8%), Apollo Pale Ale (5.2%), American Red Ale (5.7%), Scanlon IPA (6.7%) and Roast Mint Stout (4.8%). In the Agnes I could taste a bit of Buebie’s point--a small off flavor in it (diaceytl?) and the Apollo, while could, didn’t have a completely clean taste as well. Both were quite drinkable. The Tippler’s was a solid beer with a bit of a spicy hop character to it. No descriptions on the website, so don’t know much more than that about it. My favorite was the Scanlon IPA, which is a very acceptable IPA and would’ve been my choice for a pint if I had had the time for one. While it wasn’t my favorite, the Roast Mint Stout was good and I applaud the effort to push the limits. All of the beers were quite drinkable, and, even though I had sample is whiskey glasses, there was a lace on every glass. Every beer was quite acceptable, and a couple were good. Nothing was mind blowing or matched my favorites at Fitger’s the night before, but good beer worth drinking a pint. 

On the menu, Carmody’s own offerings were listed as “home brews,” which I liked for some reason. In addition, they have 14 gues taps that focused mostly on regional beers like Surly Furious, New Belgium 1554 and Ranger IPA, and two Dubrue beers, evidently a new local brewery in Duluth. Bartender was very friendly and attentive, and several locals were coming in just after 3 pm when we were there. Nice old bar, run down a bit and divvy, but comfortable. Stage in the back bar, and there seem to be a emphasis on local music as well from posters and dollar bills with bands, names and dedications attached to the bar wall. 

While I find it difficult to get past Fitger’s when I’m in town for a quick stop, I would most definitely consider spending some time at Carmody for a pint. If I were into local music, this definitely a place to stop. Hopefully, with experience, the beer will continue to improve over time.

9/25/11.  Came across this article on Carmody that expands  on details that I didn't get from my stop.  

Lake Huron Smoked Dopplebock (Fitger's Brewhouse, Duluth, MN)

Not much information on the website for this one, but listed as #2 in the Great Lakes series and that the wood used for the smoke was cherrywood. I don't know anymore about the background of the beer, but it was pleasant to have on draft when there recently. I listed it as a one off, though that's an assumption based on it be in a series.


Served in a small glass, which is always a good sign for a big beer like this. Not in a snifter, but a mini English point glass. Dark brown but not opaque beer with crimson highlights. Almost white head that fell quickly to a thin film. Smokey nose, as advertised, on top of a caramel and thick malt. Little alcohol in the nose. Charcoal at the back of the tongue. Dangerously smooth. Sweet middle that like overripe figs or old raisins--dark cherry in the middle of the beer. Definitely try this smooth lager if you're in the pub.

birth of a beer obsession (part 1)

At some point in an extended conversation with any beer geek, there is a point when someone will ask you your entry beer--that beer that started the obsession.  The answer can range anywhere from a slightly embarrassed, mumbled beer name that the drinker doesn’t deem worthy of initiating a hobby to an extended retelling of an epiphany that borders on a religious experience. Mine is both.   

While teaching and coaching speech in Los Angeles, I started picking up a Tombstone pizza and a tall bottle of Rolling Rock Extra Pale Ale.  At this time, I refused to allow any alcohol in the house on a regular basis, so I would only pick up a bottle once a week on the way home from a late night tournament.   While I tried a few others, Rolling Rock was my beer of choice for years.  At the time, it was the lightness of the beer that I preferred; other beers (all faded from memory) were simply too heavy.  I rarely own up to my Rolling Rock origins, preferring to share the following instead.  

Fast forward to June of 2000 and I’m visiting former speech and debate students from LA who were in Chicago.  We decided to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight, so we whiled away the hours at Bennigan’s downtown on Michigan Ave.  Packed because the local jazz festival had just finished, we waited elbow to elbow near the bar for a table.  I ordered a Blue Moon (a Coors product but I didn’t know that at the time).  It was cold, fresh and well served; after my first taste, I held the shaker pint of beer up to the light.  Contemplating this sunset orange beer that glistened from the late afternoon summer sun, I distinctly remember a thinking these words: I wonder if there are any other good beers in the world like this?

According to my Taste Database, I returned to Chicago on January 3rd, 2009 to add Blue Moon to my list.  It only seemed right to return to the same Bennigan’s, site of the original epiphany.   To my surprise, I’ve never reviewed Rolling Rock or Blue Moon on BeerAdvocate, so I will do that and reflect upon my findings for a future post.  


birth of a beer obsession (part 2)


birth of a beer obsession (part 3)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rainmaker (Steel Toe Brewing, St. Louis Park, MN)

Rainmaker is a dark amber ale with a golden highlights on the edge. Off white head piles high and falls to a film. Strong caramel and hop spice in the nose: pleasant and balanced. Big malt backbone that more than supports an earthy, peppery and spicey hop bite. Nice beer to chew through while watching TV. I like the beer more and more as I get to the bottom of the glass. Steel Toe seems to be the real deal for a new Minnesota brewery.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-18-2011 01:11:48

The Oracle (Bell's Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI)

The Oracle is a dark gold double IPA that has a bright white head. Massive nose--grapefruit, citrus, peppery spice, pine and a nice malt and earthy blend. Makes the beer simply fun to drink in small sips to maximize the number of times your put your nose in the glass. Oily resin and pine--my fav in a DIPA--in the taste--and a pleasantly blistering bite that lingers to the point of just about but not quite overwhelming the taste buds. Dry aftertaste. Get this one if you haven't yet. Two months in the fridge and still going strong. Patience is your friend--let this one warm up in a snifter through a football game on a Sunday afternoon, and you may even be able to tell you're future--another glass!

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-18-2011 03:52:27

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Size 7 (Steel Toe Brewing, St. Louis Park, MN)

Golden IPA with streaks of copper through the thicker parts of the glass. Fluffy white head piles high in the glass. Glad it was oversized glass to hold back the rise from the bomber. Rush of grapefruit off the falling head was strong and wets the appetite. Doesn't hang in there through the whole beer, but is still a very nice citrus, lemon, light malt that is very much in the Northwest style, as stated on the website. Lace hangs nicely on the side of the glass as I taste it--hops linger in the nose yet as the soft bread hides below the fruity hop bite that swallows the tongue fully. Lingers nicely and can chew the hops a little. Body is a bit light, but seems to be on purpose to showcase those hops. 7% ABV is completely unapparent, so it's a much bigger beer than it seems on face value. Very good IPA--maybe even one to keep around on a regular basis to drink during the week. Nice hop bite to feed the beast, but light enough to enjoy so you're not kicked in the butt by this Size 7.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-17-2011 03:48:35

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Copper Cone (Epic Brewing, Salt Lake City, UT)

Copper Cone is a hazy gold to copper American Pale Ale with a dirty white head. Nice grapefruit, lemon, spice and caramel. A good nose that makes me anticipate liking this beer more than some of the earlier Epic beers I've had. And...nope. Taste is adequate, but doesn't live up to the nose. Slightly thin body, good malty base but overwhelms the hops, and the bitterness and body are muddled. Some of the fruit carries into the body, but seems set a part from the rest. Perfectly good beer, but not going to go out of my way for it again.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-15-2011 02:01:37

Summit Black Ale (Summit Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Jet black ale, but a bit of light is getting through the thinner part of the pint glass, making it look more like a dark brown.  Hop spice fights through the burnt toast, black dirt and charcoal malt (and that's a compliment in case you missed it). Very nice nose that is unique and very interesting. Analogous to Aecht Schlenkerla for the type of smell coming off the top if this black ale, but not the same smokey smell or intensity, but similar in the raw aromatics wafting up. While I love Summit, it has, historically, not always pushed the envelope to the danger zone, so I was going to be satisfied with a good nose and a thick rocky tan head that left a nice lace. Some assertive hop and charcoal taste, but the mouthfeel is a bit thin to support the flavor. Going to get a six pack of this one to savor while it's available.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-15-2011 03:22:11

Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Special Ale 2011 (Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, CA)

First bottle of Anchor's Our Special Ale for the season for me. Dark brown with copper highlights, this Christmas ale piles up a thick tan head before falling away to a spotty film. Nutmeg spice and light fig on top of a strong malty base. Spice strengthens in the taste, nutty flavor floats above chocolate and malt. Finishes sweet and leaves the spice lingering on the back and sides of the tongue. Another good year for this beer, though maybe not the best.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-14-2011 01:31:30

Red Ale (Odell Brewing, Fort Collins, CO)

Red Ale is a copper ale with an off white head that falls with a nice lace. The American amber ale has a great nose with lots of toffee, caramel and strong hop spice. Big malt shows up in the taste w/o some of the other flavors in the nose. Hop bite is light but pleasant. Overall, a nice amber ale that gives the senses a run for the money and is still very drinkable. Might not buy for home again, but would gladly get a pint in a bar for a refreshing change of pace or a great go-to beer for a place with a limited selection.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-14-2011 02:45:03

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Barley John's Brew Pub (New Brighton, MN)

Unfortunately, I live on the wrong side of the twin cities to visit Barley John's to be a regular. Recently, visited BJ's again for the AHA Teach a Friend to Homebrew day, and actually brought a friend to learn from the welcoming Minnesota Home Brewers Association. I attended this same event several years ago when I started homebrewing and the learning from it gave me the confidence to brew my first batch. 

On to Barley John's, who has always been a great host. For 10 am start, BJ's had a breakfast special, including a veggie version that was much appreciated by me. Also, two additional options offered two different sausage versions of the egg bake. Over the years, I've been to BJ's maybe a dozen times--and have never been disappointed by the food. In fact, the food is one of their strengths. 

On this trip, I started with the Imperial Stout, which was a very respectable version of the style. I finished the keg of the Biere de Garde, which the server said was the staff favorite. It wasn't a favorite of mine, but it was the bottom of the keg (comped for half the glass). Moved to my standard favorite Old Eight Porter. When available, the much acclaimed Dark Knight is very much worth the effort to drink. 

If you're on the north side, or if you're looking for a way above average dinner with your craft beer, Barley John's should be a serious consideration. This small place with friendly service, great food and solid beer won't disappoint.

Reviewed on: 11-12-2011 18:41:41

Tank Monkey (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Tank Monkey was served in a 10 oz glass--the cascade from the bottom of the glass is absolutely gorgeous--it's what one imagines beer to be at it's very best.  Light brown as it starts to settle, a fluffy bright white head forms and lingers above an ale of copper with gold highlights to charge the anticipation for this double IPA. Can't find the description, so don't remember anything about the composition. Bright citrus and light lemon, earthy notes with some resin, pine, and a big hop spice with a trace of pepper. Great nose followed by a creamy malt sweetness, caramel and then--the bite! Hops dig in hard on the back of the tongue to counterbalance the silky sweetness. Very nice beer. Drove back to have another, though the first was the best--which I attribute to the vagaries of cask ale. Didn't get the pushed version, but would guess brightening this beer up would be pretty good as well.

Serving type: cask

Reviewed on: 11-12-2011 01:02:34